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Beth Ditto Is On A Mission To Change Plus-Size Fashion

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In a sea of stick-thin fashion models starring in campaigns, cover shoots and on the catwalk, many plus-size brands unfortunately choose to go down the route of 'flattering', 'slimming' or 'disguising' the body. Thankfully, Beth Ditto is here to change that archaic notion. Her own line of clothes, which launched earlier this year, was created to celebrate, showcase and enhance bigger women's figures. About bloody time.

Last week, the singer-turned-fashion designer unveiled her second collection, collaborating with two of London’s most lauded emerging talents – Charles Jeffrey (who's up for a gong at next month's Fashion Awards) and photographer/magazine-maker Hanna Moon – in a campaign championing self-love, inclusivity and real beauty.

The eleven-piece collection, which is available in UK sizes 18-32, draws on the best-loved shapes from the first collection, reimagining them in denim and silk, alongside new designs. There's everything from statement dresses with cinched waists and bubble sleeves and a cocoon-shaped wool coat to a hooded dress and embellished sweaters. Naturally, to reflect Ditto's infectiously effervescent personality and lifelong love affair with makeup, prints include vibrant colour-pop eye pencil shavings, dripping red nail varnish and fluttering, oversized eyelashes.

We sat down with Beth to discuss her new role as fashion designer and how she wants to challenge the industry.

You previously worked with Evans but now you’ve gone it alone with your own brand. What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learnt working on the second collection, following your debut?
The first one, you just don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve done things with Evans before but you always have a project manager, you have someone doing the business for you. Also, they’re paying you to do it which is so different to paying for it yourself. Big difference! I learned that I don’t know everything at all. There’s so much to learn and I need to learn from someone so one day I was working on it and working on a new record and I was like, "Stop! I need to let him [Frédéric Baldo] take over. He knows what he’s doing, we’ve worked together for so long and he makes me stuff all the time and knows what I like." Why wouldn’t I just let him do it and then be the person who approves it, tweaks it and makes it better for the body. So I did that and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s important to not be complacent and think you can do everything and realise there’s always room for growth.
Complacency is one of my biggest fears! When you’re in your 20s you don’t realise how much you don’t know. That’s what makes things exciting when you’re younger because you do everything boldly. When you get to be my age, and you’ve been roaming the earth for 300 years – okay, 35 – the difference is so crazy because you’re still as bold but you have life experience to look back and be like, "Wow, what would I or could I have done differently?" Most of the time people take more control of their life but for me I’m going to take less control and it’s going to be better. You can’t do everything, even though you want to.



You have lots of friends in the fashion industry. Did you ask for advice with your collection?
I didn’t. I guess I could have but I have this thing where I don’t want to bother people. Last night, I went to the Christine and the Queens show… I’ve met Héloïse before and she wanted me to come backstage and say hello and I was like, “No, I don’t want to be a bother.” It’s the Southerner in me!

I guess customer feedback in a way must be more important?
I try to listen to that a lot, even though it can be hard to read. If there’s one thing I could change –actually there are a lot of things I’d change – in the industry, it's that I wish it could be less expensive. I guess people see you in magazines and they see you play a show or on television and they assume that you’re loaded. I’m very fortunate, I wouldn’t lie, but I think people see the price tag and they’re like "Ugh, so rich" but that’s how much it costs to make the motherfucker. I’m pretty sure we’re still paying the last collection off!

It’s obvious you’re not interested in cheap, disposable fast fashion and the collection is all produced in NYC. Is sustainability and a more ethical approach key to your brand?
Yes, because it’s missing! I know for me I bought a Stella McCartney coat… Coats are a really hard thing to find for anybody but a really nice coat for bigger people is really hard to find. When I saw the Stella coat I was like, "This is going to be one of the most expensive things I’ve ever bought, for real". I have worn that thing for at least eight years. I know that’s not feasible for a lot of people but you can have a lot for a little or a little for a lot and that’s what I’m learning still. Hopefully that comes through.
Do you think we’ll actually see a sincere shift in fashion, particularly luxury, away from very thin models and unrealistic sample sizes any time soon?
I think if we keep going the way we’re going… I’ve seen such a shift from just 10 years ago. You wouldn’t have seen certain people on the covers of things. Tess Holliday, Brittany Howard, Rebel Wilson. There’s a lot more visibility. I couldn’t say that 15 years ago. Now it feels like there’s a bigger presence and we’ve taken things into our own hands. People are doing it for themselves – as long as that keeps going, it’s bound to catch on. The thing we have to change most is the way we feel about ourselves before we can convince other people that we’re worthy human beings. That’s the way it goes with any kind of otherness.

Who are your biggest style influences and beauty icons?
David Bowie, I love him so much. That’s because of his ability to change and that he took things that weren’t necessarily conventionally beautiful and made them incredible. I love punk rock. It’s more about looks than anything else. Gloria Steinem had an incredible look. I love the sister from The Wonder Years, Karen the hippy sister. She was a big influence. I love London because people just look cool, even when they’re not trying. That doesn’t happen in America.

How did you juggle launching a second collection with your upcoming solo album?
By handing over the control. That’s how I did it. I felt so, so, so stressed out. That’s how I’ve done it. When it comes to decisions, samples coming in or fittings, I was always there but when it comes down to fabrics, I just could not. I just didn’t have the capacity to think about it. That was a really helpful thing, to hand it to someone I trusted.

Does the term 'plus-size' bother you?
No. I think we’re in a place where we are so marginalised that without that section… What people are really against is that we’re an afterthought; that there’s regular and acceptable and then “plus these”. In that context I understand why that bothers people but I think what’s important to do now is... I think we need a better name but I don’t really care. Call me what you want, I’m going to do what I wanna do. I think it’s important to have that conversation and get people thinking about it. We have to change people’s language. But really, I don’t give a shit!

Shop the new collection at www.bethditto.com
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